A relatively small reserve that packs an oversized punch, Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania is a wildlife haven and national treasure.
For starters, it has a high concentration of elephants, there are tree-climbing lions, the lake is flamingo-choked, and there’s an exciting canopy walk. The hippo pool is also always stocked with a good number of the wallowing, hefty beasts.
Thanks to its abundance of water, Lake Manyara National Park is incredibly lush. Game drives take you through gorgeous groundwater forest and acacia woodland, as well as past the marshlands and grassy plains surrounding the park’s eponymous lake. The lake itself is something to behold, with the 600 m-high Rift Valley escarpment plunging down to meet its western shore.
Lake Manyara National Park is particularly popular with those looking for a quieter safari, as it doesn’t attract the same crowds as nearby Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. Yet the park stocks all the usual suspects, like lions, leopards, giraffes and wildebeests. And the lions are tree-climbing lions, which are rare and so even more exciting to see.
For anyone wondering if Lake Manyara is worth visiting, we feel it’s definitely worth your time. We love taking visitors to this gem of a park to see its magnificent wildlife and scenery.
As of 2009, when it was enlarged, Lake Manyara National Park is 644 km2 (249 sq mi). That’s about the same size as Madrid, for some perspective. The lake is about 230 km2 (89 sq mi), but this figure varies pretty wildly by season, when the water level rises or falls. The lake is a shallow soda (or alkaline) lake that’s fed by a series of rivers coming over the escarpment and has no outlets.
Part of the appeal of Lake Manyara National Park is its varied terrain and vegetation. There’s a groundwater forest of evergreen figs and mahoganys, for starters. You then encounter acacia woodland and open savanna. Around the lake, which runs northeast-to-southwest and consumes the eastern portion of the park, there’s marshland and salt flats. For anyone embarking on a ‘big year’, this is great birdwatching territory.
The best or easiest way to get to Lake Manyara National Park is to fly into the city of Arusha in north Tanzania. Arusha is also the staging post for a Kilimanjaro climb, so many who trek the mountain then head west to go on a Tanzania safari.
Lake Manyara National Park is a drive of 126 km (78 mi) to the southwest of Arusha. The drive takes about two hours. This makes it a perfect day’s outing for anyone staying in Arusha.
The best time of year for game viewing at Lake Manyara National Park is the dry season, which is July to October. This is because there’s less foliage during this period hiding or camouflaging the animals.
The best time of year for bird watching is from November to April, as this is when the migratory birds from Europe and northern Africa come to the hood. Many are also in their glorious breeding plumage. The wet season is also good for waterfalls and canoeing.
Quite simply, yes. 😊 But you want more than that, of course. You want us to state our case!
Well, first of all, Lake Manyara National Park is quieter than most of the bigger, more famous parks. There are fewer safari vehicles, especially in the morning, to obscure the scene and potentially frighten away the animals.
The second reason this park deserves to be on your itinerary is that it has an epic concentration of elephants. Sightings of these gentle and giant creatures are pretty much guaranteed. Not to hammer the point home too hard, but when people think of Lake Manyara National Park, they think elephants.
Thirdly, and very importantly, Lake Manyara is home to tree-climbing lions. Such lions are very rare, and can only be found in a handful of parks in the world, three of which are in Tanzania (the other is Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda). Most lion populations stick to the ground, and you find them idling among the grasses, on top of rocks, and sheltering from the sun under trees.
At Lake Manyara, however, you can look for lions framed by leaves with their limbs dangling down the sides of branches. If you see a lioness lead her cubs up a tree, or a whole pride draped over the various parts of an acacia … well, it might be time to die and head for heaven.
In terms of practical matters, Lake Manyara is closer to the city of Arusha than other north Tanzania parks (like Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park). It therefore makes for an easy day trip if staying in Arusha.
Lake Manyara is also a great place to visit en route to Ngorongoro Crater as it borders the former, which in turn is en route to Serengeti. A north Tanzania safari that includes Lake Manyara along with Ngorongoro and Serengeti therefore makes a great deal of sense. That’s what we suggest to clients of Follow Alice, at least.
Gamespotting is the primary activity at Lake Manyara National Park. But there are also many other great activities on offer:
Note that you need to book your spot for many of the above activities so you won’t be disappointed. Also some of them carry a fee above and beyond that of the park entrance fee. The Treetop Walkway, for instance, is an extra $30 for non-residents of East Africa.
Lake Manyara has diverse habitats that shelter various mammals. This underrated park actually has some of the highest densities of large mammals in the world! This includes the Big Five, save for rhinos. Elephants are synonymous with the park, and there are plenty of large herds to spot.
Also exciting are the park’s tree-climbing lions. Most lion populations around the world stick to the ground. This makes tree-climbing lions pretty rare. They can only be found in north Tanzania and south Uganda. It’s a fantastic sight to spot a lion or two chilling in a tree!
Here now is a list of some of the animals you can look forward to hopefully seeing on safari in Lake Manyara National Park:
While they’re incredibly elusive, the lucky few visitors have also spied cheetahs and wild dogs in the park. If you’re keen to see baboons, you’ll be interested to note that the park has the largest concentration of baboons anywhere in the world, and its troops can have over a hundred individuals!
There are over 400 species of birds for you to train your binoculars on at Lake Manyara. Fifty of these are birds of prey, including various types of eagles. One of the reasons for the richness of birdlife is the diversity of habitats within the park: there’s forest, woodland, grassland, marshland and the lake. Massive flocks of white pelicans and pink flamingoes make it their business to provide the lake with solid company.
Some of the other birds in the park to look for are:
Perhaps the avian highlight – and one of the sights for which the park is most famous – is the lake’s flamingoes. At times large stretches of water are painted pink from thousands of the birds huddled together on their stalk-like legs. At other times, isolated pink specks create a polka dot pattern on the water’s surface. And have you ever seen a stand of flamingoes take flight? Their wings can be heard beating the air, their calls are a cacophony of goose-like honks, and the spectacle of the communal lift is mesmerising.
Lake Manyara plays home to both greater and lesser flamingoes, the two species of the bird native to Africa. The greater flamingo has whitish-pink feathers, a pink bill with a black tip, pink legs, and black-edged wings. The lesser flamingo weighs about half the size of the greater flamingo and is 50 cm or so shorter. They’re much the same in appearance, but can be easily distinguished by their black bills and their much pinker plumage.
The algae that grow in the alkaline waters of the lake turn toxic when ingested by most animals, but flamingoes are immune. In fact, the pink in their plumage is because of this algae.
The image below shows the various species of flamingoes found around the world.
At Follow Alice we’ve put together an exciting Tanzania safari that explores some of the very best locations in north Tanzania, including Lake Manyara. Check out our suggested five-day Tanzania safari itinerary.
Our Tanzania safari is the perfect addition, in our opinion, to a Kilimanjaro climb. It also pairs very nicely with a gorilla trekking experience in Uganda. If you’re keen to Follow Alice to Tanzania, please give us a shout!Share this tour